The Woman Who Wouldn't
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The Woman Who Wouldn't

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by Gene Wilder

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The beloved actor and screenwriter's second novel, set in 1903, stars a young concert violinist named Jeremy Webb, who one day goes from accomplished adagios with the Cleveland Orchestra to having a complete breakdown on stage. If he hadn't poured a glass of water down the throat of a tuba, maybe he wouldn't have been sent to a health resort in Badenweiler, Germany


The beloved actor and screenwriter's second novel, set in 1903, stars a young concert violinist named Jeremy Webb, who one day goes from accomplished adagios with the Cleveland Orchestra to having a complete breakdown on stage. If he hadn't poured a glass of water down the throat of a tuba, maybe he wouldn't have been sent to a health resort in Badenweiler, Germany. But it's in that serene place that Jeremy meets Clara Mulpas, whom he tries his hardest to seduce.

Clara is so beautiful that Jeremy finds it impossible to keep from trying to find a chink in her extraordinary reserve and elegance. He finds himself reflexively flirting to get a reaction—after all, a tease and a wink have always worked before, with women back home. But flirting probably isn't the best way to appeal to a woman who was married to a dumb brute and doesn't want to have anything more to do with men. Jeremy isn't sure how to press his case—but he won't give up.

Wilder's prose is elegant, spare and affecting. But it's his romantic's eye for the intense emotions that animate a real love story that makes The Woman Who Wouldn't an unforgettable book.

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher

“This wistful love story…exudes the same sweetness that characterizes [Gene Wilder's] screen persona.” —Boston Globe

“A supple, unpretentious writer.” —Palm Beach Post

“A poignant and whimsically romantic [story]…Wilder lovingly depicts…the miraculous joy and inevitable loss that liberate true emotion.” —Publishers Weekly

“A sweet, adult fable.” —Kirkus Reviews

Publishers Weekly

Wilder's short second novel, following the similarly semifarcical My French Whore, takes a poignant and whimsically romantic poke at turn-of-the-last-century Europe's privileged gentry. When British concert violinist Jeremy Spencer Webb snaps, pouring water down a tuba and pounding the Steinway during a performance, he is sent to a health resort in the German Black Forest to recover. There, under the care of the orchestra director's brother, Dr. Karl Gross, Jeremy meets his idol, the consumptive Anton Chekhov, and an elusive "cute Belgie" named Clara Mulpas. His treatment, a regimen of rigorous walks, long baths, fine dining and the local white wine, is put to the test when he is asked to play with the string quartet that entertains the guests during dinner. The episode ends badly, but helps deepen his friendship with Chekhov. Jeremy also grows closer to Clara: struggling to restrain his normally flirtatious impulse so as not to scare her off, he gradually wins her over, with unexpected results. Wilder lovingly depicts the miraculous joy and inevitable loss that liberate true emotion in Jeremy and his music. (Mar.)

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Kirkus Reviews
A divorced violinist suffers a breakdown in the midst of an orchestral concert in Wilder's second historical novella (My French Whore, 2007). Without warning, violinist Jeremy Spencer Webb, in his early 30s, tears up the first violinist's sheet music, begins pounding the black keys of the piano and pours water into the tuba (he thought it was thirsty, he later explains). His orchestra sends him to an all-purpose German health spa (recalling Thomas Mann's The Magic Mountain, a volume as expansive as this one is slim), where his fellow patients include the revered Russian writer Anton Chekhov and a reticent young woman initially termed the "cute Belgie." Jeremy, who narrates the novella, does his best to initiate a relationship, or at least a conversation, with the beautiful Belgian woman (he considers her to be far more than cute), but she initially rejects him. She does reveal that her name is Clara Mulpas and that she is married, but that is it. The patient Jeremy, who spends his days sharing tales about critics with Chekhov, soon prevails upon Clara to let down her guard. As they start sharing meals, he discovers that her marriage has been almost as disastrous as his was. He later learns from their doctor, who runs the spa, that she has malignant, inoperable cancer. Yet the two plainly have a beneficial, therapeutic effect on each other, as their relationship deepens and turns (surprisingly explicitly, but still sweetly) sexual. It seems as if the tale is heading into Love Story territory, but the redemptive power of love proves stronger than that here. A sweet, adult fable.

Product Details

St. Martin's Press
Publication date:
Edition description:
First Edition
Sales rank:
Product dimensions:
5.04(w) x 7.14(h) x 0.51(d)

Read an Excerpt

The Woman Who Wouldn't

By Wilder, Gene St. Martin's Press

Copyright © 2008 Wilder, Gene
All right reserved.

ISBN: 9780312375782

Chapter 1
It seems that the more unbelievable a story is, the more I’m able to believe it.
I’m thirty-three years old. In 1903 I had a nervous breakdown and was sent to a neuropsychiatric hospital wrapped in a straitjacket. How that came about is still hazy, but I’ll tell you what I remember.
I’m a concert violinist; at least I was before the breakdown. In May of 1903 I was in Cleveland, Ohio, playing Tchaikovsky’s Violin Concerto in D Major, when—right in the middle of the cadenza I had been working on for weeks—I suddenly put my violin down and began tearing up the first violinist’s sheet music. I tore his score into small pieces as fast as I could, poured water into the large mouth of a tuba, pounded on the keys of the piano with my fists—only the black keys—and then sat on the floor, weeping. The audience watched all of this with open mouths until security guards rushed in and carried me off the stage.
A few weeks later, after I had calmed down enough to speak three or four sentences in a row that sounded sane, I was interrogated by the chief of the medical staff. The rest of his staff sat in chairs nearby, listening.
“Do you know your name?”
“Jeremy Spencer Webb,” I answered.
“Good for you!” the chief doctor said.
“Pleasedon’t patronize me.”
“I’m sorry,” the doctor said quite humbly. “Are you married?”
“No, thank goodness.”
“Why do you say that?”
“Because I was married a few years ago and if you had been married to my wife you’d be in a straitjacket now, and I’d be asking you questions.”
“Is that what caused your breakdown?”
“No, of course not—that’s just a bad memory. We’re divorced now.”
“Do you like your work as a musician, Mr. Webb?”
“I love my work more than I love my life.”
“Well then, why did you tear up the other violinist’s musical score . . . and pound the keys of a very expensive Steinway piano with your fist?”
“I don’t know. I honestly have no idea.”
“Do you have any idea why you poured water into a tuba?”
“I remember thinking that it might be thirsty.”
“Are you making a joke, Mr. Webb?”
“No, I’m not making a joke. I wish I were.”
The chief of staff stared at me for several seconds.
Two days later I was sent to a health resort in Badenweiler, Germany, which was in the Black Forest, close to the French and Swiss borders. Otto Gross, who was the artistic director of the Cleveland orchestra, wanted my written consent to have me taken there. I was reluctant to give it until he mentioned that the Russian writer Anton Chekhov, who was suffering from consumption, was also at the Badenweiler resort at this time. I had seen a production of Chekhov’s play, Uncle Vanya, which so intrigued me that I went to the public library in New York and read another play of his, The Seagull. I was moved by his insight and exquisite artistry. When Otto Gross also told me that my expenses would be paid by the orchestra, I signed the necessary papers. Just between us, I think they said that they would pay for everything because they were afraid of a possible lawsuit. Sending me from Cleveland, Ohio, to the Black Forest in Germany seemed crazy. Well, who was I to talk? 
Copyright © 2008 by Gene Wilder. All rights reserved.


Excerpted from The Woman Who Wouldn't by Wilder, Gene Copyright © 2008 by Wilder, Gene. Excerpted by permission.
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Meet the Author

Gene Wilder (1933-2016) began acting when he was thirteen and writing for the screen since the early 1970s. After a small role in Bonnie and Clyde pulled him away from a career onstage, he was nominated for an Academy Award as Best Supporting Actor for his role as Leo Bloom in The Producers, which led to Blazing Saddles and then to another Academy nomination, this time for writing Young Frankenstein. Wilder has appeared in twenty-five feature films and a number of stage productions. His first book, about his own life, was Kiss Me Like A Stranger, and was followed by the novels My French Whore, The Woman Who Wouldn’t , What Is This Thing Called Love? and Something to Remember You By.

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The Woman Who Wouldn't 4.1 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 11 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Romantic, sad, funny, heart-warming, these are the ways I would describe this book. My wife and I read it together, it is an excellent "read aloud book". I think it i sbest read immediatelly after Wilder's superb "MY FRENCH WHORE".
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I, an average 14 year old, wildly obsessed with Gene Wilder, found theses book terrific! . I absolutely loved 'My French Whore' , and I soon finished this within two is an amazing read, but sadly it is sooo short. I did think that My French Whore was better, simply a more complex story line, but this is only like .5% worse. I loved both, and they are filled with laugh out loud moments. Amazing story!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
dudleybates More than 1 year ago
Disappointing once again to want a book for the Nook that is available in hardback from B&N at one-third the price as the e-book. Guess I'm going to have to go back to reading paper if I want to keep reading.
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harstan More than 1 year ago
In 1903 Cleveland Orchestra concert violinist Jeremy Spencer Webb has a nervous breakdown on stage during a performance. The British expatriate tears apart the first violinist¿s music sheets, pours water down a tuba and punches the piano like a maniac before sitting on the stage crying. The men in white took him away in a strait jacket to a nearby neuropsychiatric hospital. When he began speaking three or four weeks later, he was sent to a health resort in Badenweiler, Germany in the Black Forest to recover paid fully by the Orchestra the same place he was told that Chekhov was there battling consumption.--------------- Dr. Karl Gross, brother to the Cleveland Orchestra¿s artistic director Otto Gross, takes charge of Jeremy¿s recovery. There the patient meets Chekhov and 'cute Belgie' Clara Mulpas whom he tries to seduce but she proves to be THE WOMAN WHO WOULDN¿T. His treatment consists of walks, special soaks, and fine dining with wine. When Dr. Gross decides Jeremy is ready, he asks him to perform with the string quartet entertaining the clinic¿s guests. Although that ends in failure, Jeremy and Anton become friends and he begins to win Clara¿s heart.---------------- As with MY FRENCH WHORE, Gene Wilder takes a fun look at lampooning the excesses of the aristocracy who still controls the upper crust in spite of changing economics and soon lifestyle when WWI occurs. Thus readers obtain a sweet satirical glimpse of the elite through life in the Badenweiler health resort pampering being the cure of all ills. Lighthearted yet insightful, fans will appreciate Gene Wilder¿s amusing yet deep THE WOMAN WHO WOULDN¿T.---------------- Harriet Klausner
Guest More than 1 year ago
This book lacks any sense of depth whatsoever. The dialog is bland and leads to nothing. I wouldn't recommend it. Clearly Gene Wilder is not a man of many talents. He should stick to acting.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I cannot wait to read this book! I read Gene Wilder's first book, 'My French Whore' and it was amazing! I would recommend Gene Wilder's books to everyone!